There’s 16 games remaining in the 2019-20 season for the New York Islanders, but this year looks all but lost.
The Islanders are finished.
Forget the idea that this team is so called “good” anymore. Forget that they were one of the hardest teams to play against; that’s long gone. Forget that they actually added at the deadline but have yet to win a game since. And finally, forget this team being a playoff team.
This is not the magical carpet ride from a year ago where the organization shocked the hockey world by embracing the “Prove People Wrong”, thereby earning home ice and sweeping the Penguins in the first round. And many have come to the realization that it has become that way ever since the team’s 16-3-2 start to this year.
Last night’s 4-3 loss to Ottawa was everything that has gone wrong for the Isles as of late. It wasn’t an awful game, but the Islanders showed again how fragile of a team they’ve become.
They scored first on a power play goal by Anders Lee only then to then to give it up. In the second they retook the lead on a goal by Mathew Barzal, just to see it vanish when they allowed their third shorthanded goal in two games. After they let the Sens tie it, they were once again on their heels, eventually falling behind and chasing the game in the third period.
“It sucks,” Barzal told reporters after the game. Barzal, who was the Isles’ best forward all night, had three points. “We just can’t get a W right now. It’s unfortunate, we played pretty good hockey tonight. It’s just not coming easy.”
The Islanders are now 19-20-6 after last night, and they’ve lost themselves. They’ve abandoned their system — which was the key to their success — which has caused them to look soft and play with a lack of urgency. The offense, for how awful it is and how unskilled they are, has relied on three guys for a number of weeks now. Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey have been no-shows while Brock Nelson, who was the team’s most consistent forward up until recently, has slowed down considerably. Then there’s the goaltending. Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss were solid early on, but even their play has fallen off a cliff; every night now it feels like the scoresheet reads three or more goals against them.
But the Islanders’ struggles clearly go beyond their performance on the ice. It’s more mental.
You have to remember, this is an organization that lost their number-one defenseman, Adam Pelech, at the beginning of January to a freak leg injury. That setback was followed up by the loss of two of their most pivotal forwards — Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck— who made up the “Identity Line” with Matt Martin. Those two’ injury was the result of skate cuts, which were very scary. And now they’re without Johnny Boychuk, who took a skate to the face Tuesday night, and had to get 90 stitches to repair his eyelid.
All these frightening events can affect the psyche of a team. The injuries on their own are devastating to the kind of game the Isles want to play — hard-nosed, grinding, in your face. But the severity of those injuries can also take a toll on players’ minds. The Isles have shown thus far they haven’t been able to recover, and their season feels as if it’s on life support because of it.
Where’s the push back though? Where’s the fight? Where’s the resiliency that this team once had early on?
Lou Lamoriello added at the deadline because he believed in his team. He needed to. The last four performances though have all but washed away any of that faith. Something just seems off and right now there doesn’t seem to be any answers. Head coach Barry Trotz says this team needs to continue to fight through it and that they’ll get out of it as a group. Maybe they will against Carolina tomorrow, but until then the confidence and morale in this squad is at an all-time low.
“It’s tough but that’s what good teams do, they find a way and we need to just bear down and we’ve just got get the thinking out of our heads and go to work and be simple, just have some fun and play the game and get our swagger back,” said d-man Ryan Pulock.
What makes things worse for how the Islanders season has turned, was this could have been their chance to steal the division title. Other than the smoking-hot Flyers, all the other possible Metro Division playoff teams — Washington, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Columbus — have all had their struggles the last few weeks. If the Isles would have won even just two of their last five games, they’d be only five points out of first place. As of today, they are clinging to the final wild card spot.
How the Isles finish out this season, playoffs or not, they’ve become a shell of who they are along the way. They’ve had everything go wrong at the worst possible time and can’t seem to get out.
It won’t be much longer before the Islanders season is declared over unless something changes dramatically. But at this moment, they look dead and buried.
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